|After glancing at the blood-stained bathroom door, things took a decidedly disturbing turn. Herb picked up his guitar, knowing that it was the only thing that would help him think, and was shocked. A string was broken. And omen? Perhaps. There was nothing else for it but to investigate his bathroom.
Herb lived alone, in a small, dingy loft in the south of London. He worked alone, in a travel center just down the road. He had few friends, and those he did have probably didnít like him anyway. More than anything else, it was the thought of having another person in his loft that spooked him. Not that they had bled over the bathroom door, no, that he could handle. But that someone would be in his loft, in his bathroom, and bled over his bathroom door, was too much all at once.
Herb looked at the blood on the bathroom door. It was dark red, the colour of the wine Herb found so difficult to drink, and clotted. There was a lot of it. "How could one person have so much blood in them?" Herb thought, especially after seeing the thick pools on the floor. The puddles were nasty affairs, and had formed in the low spots in the shoddy tiling. Silently, Herb cursed his choice of accommodation.
Really, it wasnít much of a choice. After being kicked out of home by his child-hating parents, he was forced to rent the cheapest accommodation he could find. And, with his pitiful wages, he stood no chance of ever moving to a classier establishment.
The blood, aside from the puddles, had been thoughtfully arranged into a kind of short trail, from one end of the lime-green room to the other. Or, more specifically, from the door to the prison-esque window. It ended there though. Not one given to deep thought, Herb saw nothing odd about this.
Circumstances had conspired against Herbís education. Constant upheaval as a child meant that even learning to read was a truly Herculean task. In later life, the harsh world of private education left Herb in the cold. His lack of social skills didnít help much, either. Herb didnít enjoy school. No good academically, he didnít even have the support of friends or the false comfort of alcohol to keep him going. Plus, changing schools regularly prevented him from making friends with even the other social misfits.
Herb wanted to call the police, but something was stopping him. Some unknown force told him that perhaps the police would be less than sympathetic to his tale. What could he have to fear from the police? He had simply come home to find a bloodied bathroom.
Herb had spent a lot of time in that bathroom. He once calculated that he spent 1/3 of his waking life in there. He also spent a lot of time in Parkside. The doctors in their smart suits, and the brisk nurses in their rigidly starched uniforms were just about all he could remember of that period of his life. He had masterfully blocked out the perceived injustices of that stage, replacing them with fairy-floss entries: did this then, went there to do this, and so on.
There was only one thing for it. Herb had to clean up. Fetching his bucket and mop, he washed down the entire bathroom from top to bottom. Without even a hint of revulsion at his gruesome task, he finished in record time, but found one Ďslightly interestingí item: a clipboard. It had a chewed pencil tied to the top of the board, and a list of place, times, and signatures. If Herb had been given to reading, which he wasnít, he could have read that it was indeed the gasmanís clipboard. The places were the houses on his street: the times had five-minute intervals, leading up until the time when he usually left for work.
Herb, on one hand, despised his small loft, and on the other, loved it, too. He loved it because of the elemental heating method: a small fireplace. He could, of course, use the simple gas heater near his bed, but preferred to use the real fire, more for the entertainment value than anything else. He could stare into that fire for hours on end, never tiring of the random patterns and images thrown up from his warped memory.
It was into this much-loved fire that Herb threw the clipboard. It burned furiously, sparks flying, and a blue-green flame spurting as the inks and paints ignited. He flicked on the television and turned the volume up. He liked to listen to the news while watching the fire. Nothing was dearer to him than watching the fire and listening to the news. Out of one ear, he heard an item that caught his attention: 'Bloodied gas inspector found on roof of bus'. What kind of sicko would kill a gasman? The mere thought of a murdered gasman angered Herb. He had almost become a gasman himself, and so felt a strange kinship with most inspectors he came across.
He heard a knocking at the door. This, in itself, was unusual. No-one ever wanted to see Herb, much less his sordid lodging. He stood up, tense. He walked slowly to the door, and peered through the fish-eye lens at the man standing to attention just outside. Through the thin cataract-smear of white paint, Herb could make out just one detail. The chilling outline of a policemanís hat.